When we think of weed in the traditional sense, we often think of THC: tetrahydrocannabinol (smoke a joint, then try to pronounce it). THC is the chemical responsible for the majority of marijuana’s psychological effects; it’s what we’d wink at were we ever to flirt with pot from across a smoky bar.
THC acts like the cannabinoid chemicals made naturally in our bodies (as THC itself is a cannabinoid). It plays on the cannabinoid receptors in areas of our central nervous system that are associated with memory, pleasure, coordination, time perception, and good old-fashioned thinking.
THC in Cannabis
The reason THC exists in cannabis is probably for reasons of self-defense. The resin of the cannabis plant that contains THC acts as a protective shield from threats such as insects, climate, and herbivores who view any foliage as their own personal salad bar.
THC also has a strong ability to absorb UV-B, which theoretically makes the plant less susceptible to radiation damage.
While THC is found in cannabis, other plants possess molecules that may potentially mimic weed’s effects. Carrots, for instance, contain a compound called falcarinol. This interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in our brains (both CB1 and CB2). Scientists aren’t really sure what happens when this interaction occurs. But, at the very least, there may someday be a better reason to eat our veggies.
THC versus CBD
Though THC is one of the most prominent cannabinoids found in marijuana, CBD (another cannabinoid) is also plentiful. THC and CBD act as rivals, a Weed Side Story where CBD mutes the effects of THC. This is why marijuana strains that are high in CBD calm you (CBD is a non-psychoactive) while those high in THC are more psychedelic.
THC arouses the brain to release dopamine, ultimately causing euphoria. It also interferes with how well the hippocampus processes new information, the reason why THC should never be your study buddy – it’s not conducive to memories. It causes hallucinations (when done in large quantities), sedation, relaxation, pain-relief, and, sometimes, paranoia.
In fact, pot is fairly infamous for its propensity for paranoia: suddenly, you start to panic at the disco and everywhere else.
Smoking strains that have some CBD, rather than all THC, reduces or eliminates the freak out.
Nowadays, many strains are hybrids, offering at least some calming effects.
The History of THC
Though cannabis has been around forever – some believe its use appropriately dates back to the Stone Age – THC wasn’t isolated from the cannabis plant until more modern times. In the 1960s, an Israeli scientist Named Dr. Raphael Mechoulam set out to isolate the active chemical from marijuana. Rumor has it that he did this illegally, obtaining weed from police officer friends. Whatever route, he found success in 1964.
Since Dr. Mechoulam’s discovery, more than 60 other cannabinoids have been identified (including CBD). Marijuana contains over 200 cannabinoids, but THC and CBD are often found in the highest concentrations.
THC and Neurogenesis
Though most of us have heard that pot kills brain cells – as does drinking and everything else fun – recent studies have shown that’s not necessarily the case.
Most recreational drugs are neurotoxic, meaning they have a negative impact on the human brain.
But THC is considered the opposite: neuroprotectant. In short, it actually protects the brain from things like inflammation and oxidative stress.
Scientists also discovered, back in 2005 at the University of Saskatchewan, that THC goes beyond a protective effect: it might offer flat-out Terminator-like regeneration. Essentially, it promotes the growth of new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis. This is different than most drugs, which prevent neurogenesis. To put it plainly, the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” commercials? Save ‘em for meth.
THC in the Olden Days
THC in the olden days (the olden days being the 1970s) was not as present in marijuana as the plants bred today. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the average joint had a THC concentration of 1.37 percent in 1978. Three decades later, in 2008, that concentration reached 8.5 percent. Present day Colorado features strains that average around 18-19 percent. But some strains still feature concentrations much higher: they put the pot in potency.
The Strains High in THC
As mentioned above, some people don’t like strains high in THC, believing it makes them suspicious – somewhere, their fourth-grade teacher knows they’re lighting up. And she is not happy. However, others find this isn’t true and chalk the THC/paranoia link up to myth, rather than fact. Only you know what works for you.
If THC gives you the shakes, consider strains high in CBD to counteract the nervousness. But, if not, if you’re looking for THC potent pot, the following strains might be worth your time:
At 28 percent THC, Girl Scout cookies will leave you wanting a thin mint, or two hundred. It’s won multiple Cannabis Cups and is characterized by a purple hue (so you know it’s pretty).
Considered among the first of the strongest strain trend, Ghost Train Haze contains a THC level around 25 to 27 percent. In high doses, it can lead to anxiety, but in lower doses, it promotes creativity.
A combination of Sour Dubb, Chem’s Sister, and Chocolate Diesel, Gorilla Glue is very potent. In fact, a man in Colorado grew a strain with a THC level of 33 percent. While this might sound hard to believe, it’s on the internet so it has to be true! In all seriousness, twelve consecutive tests by SC Labs verified the Gorilla Glue at THC percentages that ranged from 30 to 33.5. In other words, more than enough to go ape.